Trek #30: Larch Mountain Crater

Hiking the Larch Mountain Crater was an interesting experience: fun, navigationally challenging, and beautiful. While I never did get lost on this 7 mile hike, there were plenty of times I questioned whether or not I was on the right path, as there are countless junctures and forks, many of which were unnervingly unsigned. The trailbook that I used for navigation was “Pacific Northwest Hiking,” a guide to over 900 trails, which as one would guess means they aren’t as detailed and comprehensive as they could be on individual trails. However to its credit, it never led me astray. I found my way from the trailhead, deep into the belly of the crater, and back up around to the road that leads to the parking area. I consider this hike my most successful navigational challenge yet.

That said, this hike hold many, many treasures. Starting from the trailhead, before beginning your hike into the crater, you simply must make the climb to Sherrard Point, a lookout at over 4,000 feet in elevation. It is here that on a clear day you are afforded stunning views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens. Though a bit hazy, it was clear and the views were fantastic:


Mt. Hood

Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier
(the little snowcapped guy in the far
distance)
Mt. St. Helens
(far distance… closest my camera could zoom)

After you get your fill of the views (and catch your breath, the climb is a lung-buster), head back down and start your hike on the Larch Mountain trail. After a couple of miles of mildly descending through the forest, you’ll come into the crater. It’s a fascinating place to be.

The crater, which was once the belly of an active volcano many, many centuries ago, is now overgrown with abundant forest life and boggy meadows. I’ve never seen terrain quite like it, like a miniature valley forest. The best view you’re going to get of this crater wonderland is when you first enter into it, because you spend the next 2.5 miles circumnavigating it, and the trail takes you away from the belly of the crater itself. I made the mistake of taking only one photo when first entering it, thinking I was going to get a better shot as I hiked around it, and I was wrong. Here’s my one good shot of the crater itself from standing right in it:

Larch Mountain Crater from ground level

My trailbook says that in spring, the crater is covered with Avalanche Lilies, which after perusing a quick google image search, I imagine would be a very beautiful scene.

After navigating around the crater, the final miles of the hike are spent ascending up a ridge and out to the outer part of Larch Mountain. This section of trail, at which point is the Oneonta Trail, is deep in the forest, very lush and abundant with old growth. Afterwards you’ll make your way out to Larch Mountain Road, and walk a third of a mile uphill back to the parking area.

Overall I found this hike to be full of surprises, mostly wonderful ones. I didn’t expect the view from Sherrard Point to be so spectacular, and I hadn’t even planned on making it a part of this hike until my trailbook insisted. I didn’t quite know what to expect when hiking the crater itself, and was amazed at how lush it is considering there was a period in history when I was probably a barren, hardened lava flow and the mountain itself was covered entirely in ash. It just proves how the earth can heal itself so beautifully after a natural upheaval.

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Treks Down: 30, Treks to Go: 22

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